The Graves at Fountains Abbey


Many years ago, archaeologists had to dig archaeological sites by hand, not knowing fully if where they were digging would yield what they sought. Now, archaeologists use Geophysical surveying that allows them to “see” into the ground and know whats beneath. Geophysics was first developed for archaeology in the mid-20th century and has now became a very popular method for initial surveys of a site. Geophysical surveys use ground-penetrating radar that shoots a signal into the Earth; if the lasers meet a resistance such as stones, graves, or another feature, it will send back a signal that will

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(Archaeologist from Wessex Archaeology using Geophysical techniques to survey a site)

indicate there is something below the Earth. This feature has led archaeologists from the University of Bradford to discovery over 500 graves of monks from Fountains Abbey. The Abbey was established somewhere in the 12th century and was closed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. While 500 clear-cut graves have been seen through geophysical techniques, archaeologists believe there could be as many as 2000 bodies because some graves cut into others, making the total number of bodies unclear but estimated. There were around 2000 monks that lived at Fountains Abbey during the course of its existence so this number would correlate to the bodies found.

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(The ruins of Fountains Abbey)

Workmen in the 19th century dug at the site and revealed some of the graves, reporting that they were buried “bunkbed” style, leading modern archaeologists to be more positive that there are a significantly more people buried here. Bunkbed style burials consisted of an initial grave being dug relatively deep, and as more burials accumulated, the burials would pile on top of each other, with dirt as little as 6 inches separating the bodies. This amazing site cannot only be seen as magnificent ruins that have stood the test of time, but need to be revered as a holy site of those who served God and England.